The Hard Way
If hotplugging is not enabled, which is very sad, you can add it. There are several steps to follow. Before leaping in and doing any of these things, check the home page of your distribution or the documentation for your installation disks to see if there is an easy way to add hotplug support. It's a good thing to have, not only for USB devices, but for Cardbus, Firewire, docking stations — any device that can report state changes.
If after all that, there’s still no easy way to add it:
1. Make sure you have an up-to-date kernel. See Red Hat's manuals for the online versions of the Red Hat manuals; kernel upgrading and configuration is in the "Customization Guide."
Debian users have two excellent guides available to them:
Creating Custom Kernels With Debian's Kernel-Package System
Compiling Kernels the Debian Way
2. Configure all the kernel USB bits as modular. There really aren't any good reasons to compile them statically — that defeats the whole notion of hotplugging. The following are needed:
ECHI HCD CONFIG_USB_EHCI_HCD, usb-ehci-hcd.o
UHCI CONFIG_USB_UHCI, usb-uhci.o
OHCI CONFIG_USB_OHCI, usb-ohci.o
The Bottom Line
I support mixed Windows and Linux networks, and this little gadget has made a huge difference for me. It's much faster than a CD, and data transfers are so easy — I don't cuss nearly as much as I used to.
One surprising use is at "Big Company," where I do some occasional work. Engineers who use the big color plotters now use their own pen drives to transfer the files directly to the printer servers, instead of over the network. They can monitor and troubleshoot the print job locally, plus they like to poach on other department's plotters so it doesn't count against their own quotas. This probably doesn't count as a win in some people's books, but it sure does keep them happy and entertained.